How Inequality Hurts

The No-Hassle Air Travel Experience

Look, up in the sky! It’s a plane! It’s a jet! It’s a burden. The modern private jet is bringing luxury to super-rich high flyers — and plenty of problems to everyone else.

By Sam Pizzigati

Most of us see the private jet as an extravagance, an affectation of the super-rich. A new report suggests these jets may actually be something else. A menace. Private jets a menace? At first, that notion seems hard to swallow. Private jets don’t bomb anybody, after all. They don’t strafe innocent villages. They don’t even crash particularly often.

But these jets, the Institute for Policy Studies and Essential Action help us understand in their just-released High Flyers report, do plenty of damage on other fronts. Private jets threaten our environment and airport security. They undermine the funding of air travel safety. Even worse, High Flyers makes plain, the rapidly intensifying super-rich love affair with private jets is frustrating efforts to make sure transportation in the United States “works well for everyone.”

High FlyersAll this collateral damage has more or less snuck up on us. Private jet travel has largely soared beneath our political radar. The big reason: At major airports, we seldom see private jets or their passengers. Private jets have their own small terminals, with separate entrances and parking. The private-jet rich need not even go through regular security.

“Private flyers don’t have to bother with little plastic bags with three-ounce containers of shampoo or strangers rifling through their undergarments,” High Flyers explains. “No one dumps their personal items and water bottles into a trash bin or frisks their bodies. A weather delay doesn’t lead to compounding cancellations or passengers marooned for days.”

These obvious attractions have manufacturers of private jets booming. Gulfstream, the biggie in the business, sold $4.8 billion worth of private-jet comfort in 2007.

Their comfort, our squeeze. Private jet travel, notes High Flyers, is placing “an enormous burden on the rest of us.”

Part of that burden hits us as taxpayers. The rich and their jets pay nowhere near their fair share of air traffic control and safety costs. One example: Private jets paid only $516 million in fuel taxes in 2005. The government that same year spent $2.4 billion on private jet air traffic control.

But the heaviest private-jet burden of all may be environmental.

“The Gulfstream IV,” High Flyers observes, “emits between 83,000 to 90,000 pounds of CO2 on just one cross-country round trip. The average American emits just 50,000 pounds of CO2 total per year.”

High Flyers details a full range of other costs that private-jet travel exacts from the rest of us. But some costs these jets exact can’t be detailed, most notably the price we pay when our nation’s richest and most powerful separate themselves from the transportation system the rest of us use.

In that situation — our current situation — these rich and powerful have no vested interest in finding solutions to our overall transportation woes. Instead, they fight fiercely to protect the tax and regulatory preferences that make their private jet travel so pleasurable an experience.

High Flyers does, of course, offer an array of proposals to end the preferential treatment that makes our skies so private-jet friendly. Still, the report notes, we need to keep our eye on the real villain in this piece, “the concentration of income and wealth among the wealthiest one-tenth of one percent, those most likely to use private jets.“

“Extreme economic inequalities,” as High Flyers puts it, are “driving the expansion of private jets.”

If we want to get our skies in order, in sum, we need to address the “concentration of wealth and power” right down here on terra firma.

Sam Pizzigati edits Too Much, the online weekly on excess and inequality published by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies.

Subscribe to Too Much

Sign up here:
 Please leave this field empty


No comments for “The No-Hassle Air Travel Experience”

Post a comment